Sunday reading: Saving Ruth’s other field

As Babe Ruths’ legend has it, he honed his baseball skills at the St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys in Baltimore. The school closed in 1950, and the Archdiocese of Baltimore took it over. For 48 years, it served as the home to the Cardinal Gibbons School, and the lot were Ruth learned baseball is still a baseball diamond. Now, the Archdiocese has said the school will close, and another field from Ruth’s baseball past may be lost to history. Richard Sandomir this weekend wrote about the school and the history behind it in The Times today. It’s been a rough few years for Babe’s baseball haunts.

Yanks score early and often as Burnett shuts down Texas

Just like the second half of last season, we sit and watch every game this year expecting the Yankees to win. They’ve delivered on seven of ten occasions coming into Saturday’s game against the Rangers, and they took the field with a chance to win their first four series of the season for the first time since 1926. Using a little bit of the classic wear ‘em down approach, the Yankees had this one in the bag after three innings.

Photo Credit: Frank Franklin II, AP

Biggest Play: Nick Johnson‘s bases loaded walk

For the second time this young season, the biggest offensive play of the game was Nick Johnson working a bases loaded walk. Rangers’ starter Scott Feldman came into the game having walked just one batter total in his first two starts, but Johnson drew one in the 1st and came back for more the next inning.

Jorge Posada, Brett Gardner, and Derek Jeter were on base after three singles, and Feldman had already thrown 25 pitches in the inning.Johnson, as he tends to do, took the first pitch even though it was probably the best pitch he saw all game; a fastball belt high and down the middle. A curveball low and two sinkers off the plate later, the Yankees’ designated hitter was staring at a 3-1 count. Johnson let loose in the classic hitter’s count, fouling off a sinker. Two more foul balls later, Feldman’s pitch count in the inning was up to 32 and he was visibly gassed. It’s exactly what the lineup is designed to do, to wear down the opposing team’s pitching staff. The eighth pitch of the at-bat was a cutter high, putting Johnson on first and pushing the first run of the game across the plate.

The Yankees would go on to score another run in the inning for a quick 2-0 lead, and Feldman’s pitch count through the first two frames was over 50.

Biggest Out: Nick Swisher‘s fly out

An inning after Johnson gave the Yankees the lead, the other New York Nick stepped to the plate with a chance to really blow things open. Posada and Curtis Granderson were stationed at second and third with one out, chasing Feldman from the game after he needed 73 pitches to record seven outs. Reliever Doug Mathis came in and was able to retire Nick Swisher on three pitches, getting him to fly out to shallow left, keeping Posada on third.

Even though the Yanks were able to score four runs in the inning after Swish recorded the second out, it could have been a whole lot more if he reached base.

Photo Credit: Frank Franklin II, AP

Biggest Pitch: Michael Young’s fly out

Just as soon as the Yanks took a 2-0 lead, Texas threatened to get some back the very never inning. Taylor Teagarden was standing on third with two outs, and in stood Michael Young, who believe it or not had more hits than Derek Jeter from 2004 through 2009. Instead of waiting out the perpetually wild A.J. Burnett, Young offered at the first pitch, a 93 mph heater in on his hands, flying out harmlessly to Swisher in right. The threat was over, and the two run lead remained just that.

Burnett rolls along

Perhaps more than any other pitcher on the Yankees staff, Burnett has the potential to go out on any given day and throw a one-hit shutout or give up nine runs in two innings. You could either be upset that he’s inconsistent, or enjoy the surprise every time he pitches.

Today, Burnett kept the Rangers’ hitters off balance all day with his usual mix of fastballs and curves. He got 14 swings and misses in his seven innings of work, all of them coming on a fastball. Five of the six hits he allowed were singles, and his biggest jam of the day – bases loaded, one out in the 5th – didn’t come until after he was staked to a seven run lead.

Seven shutout innings is more than you can ask from any starter, and Burnett was kind enough to deliver on Saturday. Over his last two outings, the Yanks’ number two starter has allowed just a pair of runs in 14 innings.

Photo Credit: Frank Franklin II, AP

Happy Moments

Michael Kay had starting bringing attention to it with each at-bat, so it was good to see Alex Rodriguez hit his first homerun of the year. It was a solo shot just to the right of the Yankees’ bullpen, and it pushed him ahead of Mark McGwire for sole possession of eighth on the all-time homerun list. He’s now 16 away from 600.

When’s the last time the Yankees had a team that could beat out three infield singles in one inning? Granderson, Gardner, and Jeter turned the trick in the 5th, and even though they didn’t score, it sure was fun watching a team that can run. Gardner had three hits on the day, none of which left the infield. He almost beat out a fourth too.

Ramiro Pena finally got an at-bat. Good for him.

Annoying Moments

Al Aceves was definitely not sharp, but he gets a pass because the Yanks were winning big and it was only his second appearance in the last 11 days. The three run homer he allowed to league leader Nelson Cruz ruined the shutout, but really did nothing in the grand scheme of things. The Yankees went from having a 99.2% chance of winning to 97.4%. Big whoop.

I don’t know what’s up with Joba Chamberlain pitching exclusively from the stretch, but I’m not sure I see the point. He’s been a starter and pitching from the windup his entire life, why change it up now? I see no reason for him to not work from the windup with no one on. No point in sacrificing stuff.

WPA Graph

Full player breakdowns are available at FanGraphs’ box score.

Next Up

These two teams finish up the series at 1:05pm ET tomorrow afternoon, Andy Pettitte vs. Rich Harden.

Charleston knocks around a top 2009 draftee

Triple-A Scranton (2-0 loss to Buffalo)
Kevin Russo, 3B, Chad Huffman, LF & Chad Moeller, C: all 0 for 3 – Russo drew a walk & K’ed … Moeller committed a throwing error & K’ed
Eduardo Nunez, SS & Jon Weber, DH: both 1 for 3, 1 K – Nunez stole a base while Weber got caught
Juan Miranda, 1B: 1 for 4, 2 K
David Winfree, RF: 0 for 4, 1 K
Colin curtis, CF & Reegie Corona, 2B: both 0 for 2, 1 BB – Curtis K’ed
Jason Hirsh: 7 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 9-8 GB/FB – 63 of 88 pitches were strikes (71.6%) … thanks good enough to win most days, just not today
Jon Albaladejo: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1-0 GB/FB – 7 of 8 pitches were strikes … how come he can’t do that in the show?

[Read more…]

Open Thread: Another win

Photo Credit: Frank Franklin II, AP

The Yankees won again this afternoon, and it feels like the second half of last year all over again. The starters are pitching well and the lineup is (for the most part) clicking. Mark Teixeira is still mired in his April slump, though he did pick up an infield single today. All four of his hits this season have come on Saturday’s, which means nothing but I guess is fine open thread fodder.

Anyway, here’s your open thread for the evening. You’ve got both playoff hockey and basketball on tonight, plus the Tigers and Mariners are on MLB Network. Talk about whatever you please, just be cool.

Granderson given the Marvin Miller Award

Via Tim Britton, Curtis Granderson was presented with the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award by the player’s union before today’s game. The award is given for outstanding on-field performance and off-field contributions to the community, which describes Granderson perfectly. The award was given to him by teammate Mark Teixeira, who is on the MLBPA’s executive board. Previous winners include Torii Hunter, Albert Pujols, John Smoltz, Jim Thome, and Michael Young.

Congrats to Grandy, who’s fit in with the Yankees like he’s been here for a decade. For more on Curtis’ off-field community service work, check out this excellent profile by Joe LaPointe from today’s Times.

Game 11: Right back at it

Photo Credit: Frank Franklin II, AP

I heart day games on a Saturday, especially after last night’s game was cut short due to the weather. I’ll take the win, but I feel cheated out of high quality baseball. The quick turn around is always a pleasure, nothing like watching two games in the span on 22 hours or so. A.J Burnett gets the ball for the third time this season, and just like CC Sabathia last night, he’s coming off a strong performance against the Rays in Tampa. He’s going to be opposed by Scott Feldman, who surprised pretty much everyone last year.

Here’s the lineup…

Jeter, SS
Johnson, DH
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Posada, C
Granderson, CF
Swisher, RF
Gardner, LF

And on the mound, Allen James Burnett.

First pitch is scheduled for 1:05pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

Nothing new to Gardner’s approach so far

On the afternoon of Opening Day, we linked to a profile of Brett Gardner, who would get the start in left field that evening. In it Gardner spoke about his place in the Yankees’ lineup and what it means for his approach at the plate. “The last thing [opposing pitchers] want to do is put me on base for those guys. So I’m going to get pitches to hit. It’s just a matter of being consistent with my swing, being consistent with my approach and going up there and having good at-bats.” I thought this signaled that Gardner would become a bit more aggressive, knowing he’d see a good number of strikes. We have yet to see such an adjustment.

A glance at the Plate Discipline section of Gardner’s FanGraphs page shows similar results as last year. He has actually swung at fewer pitches than he did last year while seeing more pitches in the zone, especially on the first pitch. He has made contact with more of the pitches he has actually swung at, but we’re talking about a pretty low percentage at this point. In 27 plate appearances he has seen 121 pitches, an excellent 4.48 rate. That has led to four walks, which will help. But what’s the cost?

We often caution against analyzing events based on small samples, and Gardner’s 27 PA certainly qualifies as such. This is just a gander at the results. In other words, this is what we’ve seen so far from Gardner. Basically, it’s the same as it ever was. Gardner continues to take pitches regardless of location. Sometimes this results in a walk, a hugely positive result for Gardner. Other times he’ll fall behind in the count quickly and have to react. Then again, he hasn’t done poorly in those situations so far, going 3 for 6 in plate appearances that started 0-2. That will obviously change as the season goes along. But it appears that so far, despite his low average over the first few games, he’s made the most of his approach.

This might actually be the best thing for Gardner. In recapping the Marliners’ blowout of the Tigers last night, Jeff Sullivan of Lookout Landing makes an interesting point about pitchers and the ability to throw strikes.

Chone Figgins drew three walks. He’s now up to nine in 48 trips to the plate. He saw 20 pitches tonight and swung at four. I’m beginning to think that if you go up to the plate and just stand there – seriously just stand there – you can Michelangelo’s David your way to a .360 OBP, because pitchers are that bad. Pitchers are so bad at throwing strikes against even the most punchless batters that they need the batters to help get themselves out, and if they don’t, it just turns into a walk-fest. Look at Felix in the seventh. Felix had an 11-2 lead. There was no point in messing around and doing anything other than throw the ball down the middle. And even one of the best pitchers in the league still threw 12 of 22 pitches for balls. Pitchers suck at throwing strikes, and for some reason it takes a hitter like Figgins or Reggie Willits, with a startling lack of true hitting ability, to recognize this and exploit it. Must be an ego thing.

I wouldn’t lump Figgins into the “lack of true hitting ability” category, but Sullivan does make a good point about Willits. He and Gardner appear to be comparable players. While Willits doesn’t get a ton of playing time he does make the most of his. In 808 career plate appearances he has seen 3553, or 4.40 per trip to the plate. He also owns a career .366 OBP, which make some wonder why he doesn’t get more playing time. After all, a player who gets on base that often and who has Willits’s speed can provide immense value, especially from the bottom of the lineup.

I do hope Gardner gets more chances to play. The Yankees feature a powerhouse lineup that has Nick Swisher in the eighth spot. They can afford to have someone like Gardner hitting ninth, taking pitches and getting on base at a decent clip ahead of the big hitters. With all the strike he sees maybe he’d benefit from swinging more, but we can’t be sure of that until he does change his approach. That appears not to be happening. If Gardner can stand there and build a .340 OBP from seeing tons of pitches and taking walks, doesn’t it make sense for him to keep the bat on his shoulders?